13. April 2018

The soundtrack to the POWER TO THE PEOPLE exhibition at the SCHIRN includes songs dating from 1937 to the present day, with artists ranging from Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder to Mona Haydar and Kendrick Lamar. What they all have in common is criticism of the political system and inequality in the world.

By Antonia Lagemann

Regardless of whether they come from the USA, South America or Africa, the Balkans, Beirut or Palestine, all the musicians featured in the SCHIRN SOUND­TRACK use their songs as a call to resistance, to look closely rather than look away, and to think more carefully about the kind of world we actually want to live in.

The playlist begins with Billie Holiday and thus the year 1937. Her song “Strange Fruit” was one of the first to penetrate the entertainment arena with an explicit political message. In it, she refers to the terrible lynching of African-Americans during that time. Other musicians too, including South African singer Miriam Makeba – one of the most influential voices in the resistance against Apartheid – and Nina Simone with her song “Why? (The King Of Love is Dead)” (1970), which she recorded three days after the murder of Martin Luther King, used their music to criticize racism and discrimination against blacks.

Happy Birthday to whom?

Less well known, perhaps, is the actual trigger for the popular classic “Happy Birthday” (1981) by Stevie Wonder. It was actually dedicated to just one birthday in particular, namely that of Martin Luther King, which Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley and Gil Scott-Heron wanted to make a public holiday in the USA.

I just never understood
How a man who died for good
Could not have a day that would
Be set aside for his recognition

Stevie Wonder, Happy Birthday, 1981

Alongside these greats in musical history, the SCHIRN SOUNDTRACK also includes entirely different voices, such as that of the Lebanese singer Fairuz. Against the background of the erupting civil war in Lebanon in the 1970s, she deliberately appeared unpolitical and therefore gave more concerts abroad. The French band Mano Negra, meanwhile, which was formed in 1987 by Manu Chao, alludes to the inequality of ownership and income in South America in “Senor Matanza” (1994).

Driven from their homeland

Puerto Rican band Calle 13 also addresses the enduring problems in South America. Their hit “Pa’l Norte” with Cuban hip hop band Orishas was presented with the Best Urban Song Award at the Annual Latin Grammy Awards in 2007.  The song refers to the battle faced by illegal South American immigrants, frequently of indigenous origin, who set out on the route northwards in search of a better life.

Syrian-American activist Mona Haydar first attracted international attention only a year ago with her rap video “Hijabi”, which she released on March 27, 2017, the first ever Muslim Women’s Day.  Perhaps a little less obvious as the object of political criticism, and yet particularly pertinent, is the subject matter addressed by American-French electro-pop duo Kid Fran­ces­coli with their song “Come online” (2017), which refers to dependency on social media, which fuel and utilize – or indeed exploit – our need for recognition and love.

All around the world love women every shading

Mona Haydar, Hijabi, 2017

And so the list goes on: the SCHIRN SOUNDTRACK to the POWER TO THE PEOPLE exhibition includes so many very different voices. So: turn it up, listen and – most importantly – tune in to what the songs are actually about!